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What is New on the Housing Front?

“Our house is a very, very fine house…with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard…”

A great song for years gone by and now only wishful thinking for many.

I attended the 2nd annual Housing Action Coalition (HAC) meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was, again, an excellent conference with good speakers and information. Did we solve the problem of the housing shortage and moderate-income housing availability? Nope, not even close. However, there are a lot of ideas, actions and plans that can make a difference.

First, let's look at the terminology. Seems we started with “Affordable Housing,” then we moved to “Moderate-income Housing” but recent articles and are resorting back to Affordable. To be clear, they are nowhere near the same thing. Moderate-income housing is a house that the average person/family can afford. Right now, the median home price is $650,00 in Washington County and that is not affordable for many people especially given the 7%+ interest rates. The median income for WA County is $64,688.

Median Housing Prices have increased 47% since 2019 so what was $329,000 is now $486, 250 and with interest rates rising what then was $1,451 a month is now $ 3, 073 not to mention the increase in the down payment.

Second, Neil Walter, our State Representative spoke at the HAC conference and presented a different view of whether we are solving for Affordable Housing or Housing Affordability. An interesting perspective.

Next, we need to acknowledge that this is not just a Utah problem. The Desert News stated that “not a single state is providing enough housing for its citizens” and several national articles have stated similar findings. We are experiencing a shortage, but we are also one of the top states that have built the most housing over the past decade and we are one of the fastest growing states. The Kem Gardner Policy Institute states that “little progress on housing affordability is likely as price increases return and the housing shortage grows.

One speaker at the conference stated that there are only four things that can affect housing affordability…home prices fall, interest rates fall, incomes increase, or be patient and wait.

The Governor has stated the following:

· “We need to focus on reducing the cost of a house.”

· “We need to be open to zoning for more people as density brings down cost but at the same time, we need to make sure there is infrastructure to handle it”

· “If density comes before infrastructure, it is a problem as quality of life goes down.”

· “We want to partner with the private sector and the nonprofit sector to make the dollars go further.”

· “Short-term rentals (STRs) take housing stock away from residents.”

I would politely reply to the first 4 statements with HOW and WHERE?

The state has issued a mandate to all cities to comply with a Moderate-Income Housing Plan. They are withholding a transportation tax incentive to the cities that don’t comply and implementing some fees. Some cities may or may not be qualifying for these funds now and some seem not to care if they lose them as they cannot meet the Governor's requirement. This begs the question…”Is it the city's job to increase housing or the markets?” Ivins has submitted their plan to the state, It appears municipalities are being asked to solve a problem that they can’t solve for.

Ivins City doesn’t own any land, we have no infrastructure in place to handle density (transportation, jobs, resources), and the state of Utah’s own land trust has opted for Short-term rentals over providing housing for the educational system they support as their mission. So, what exactly would the Governor have us do?

Possible solutions that were discussed and Ivins could consider:

· The City of Ivins has no City property on which to build.

· Developers could include a small number of affordable smaller homes in and around their developments. This will also provide some blended neighborhoods, helping strengthen our sense of community. This occurred at Sage Villas along Highway 91.

· Land Trust opportunities. We can ask for small parcels of land to be carved out and donated to the city for building affordable homes. The homeowner owns the building but l leases the land, thus reducing the cost.

· “Gentle Density” through the use of Accessory Dwelling Units (indoor or exterior) this concept can be incorporated in all developments again creating blended communities. These are primarily rentals, not ownership but we need rentals too!

There are also some possible solutions for financing as well. Some solutions don’t apply to Ivins as we move from Rural to Urban.

· Visionary Homes is offering “2/1 Mortgage Rate Buy Down” where the rate is 2% below for the first year, moves to 1% below the second year and then becomes the industry rate the third year. Also stating that if rates change you can re-finance at any time.

· Many companies are now offering benefits through their Employer Assistance Programs as a way of creating loyalty and retention.

· Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) for developers

· New American Funding provides assistance in

buying a home with an ADU and counting the rent from the ADU as income to help the family qualify.

· Programs for Law Enforcement and Veterans also exist.

All of these have hoops to jump through but what doesn’t?

Finally, Representative Walter made a statement that hit home for me, “you may have to choose between tourism and housing affordability.” Seems we have already made that choice in Ivins and possibly we will have to take the action of “be patient and wait” for things to turn around as markets always course correct in due time.

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